Bed bugs: Their press rivals Bristol's

Mark Feldlaufer, an entomologist at the USDA, is one of the government's foremost researchers on bedbugs. His mission is to find new and existing chemicals to kill the bloodsucking pests.
Friday, September 24, 2010

Fear not, dear readers. We've got something for you to fear this year.

Bed bugs!

The hideous creatures are the media obsession of the moment. We have given them Lady Gaga's meat dress throne, put them on the cover of the New Yorker, featured them on the nation's front pages and drilled the details of their infestations into your brains. You know the feeding frenzy is reaching its apex when a Frederick County public library gets besieged by calls from reporters in Japan because a few bugs were found in a returned book.

Like most fall freakfests - think swine flu, avian flu, anthrax, mad cow disease, ebola, even the Y2K bug - this one has some serious bonafides.

The gold standard seal of approval for an epidemic, which basically gives all of us in the news business permission to cover the begeezus out of it, is a declaration from a big government agency, preferably the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since it has those biohazard suits and all.

Bingo! Last month the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency issued a joint statement warning of "an alarming resurgence in the population of bed bugs." It called for "an integrated approach to bed bug control involving federal, state, tribal and local public health officials."

OMG! Federal and tribal? This must be serious. So bad that New York is thinking of appointing a Bed Bug Czar. And just this week, bed bug fighters from across the country met at a giant bed bug summit in Chicago.

Locally, we've got a joint task force on beg bug control that includes the Defense Department. And top scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working feverishly to come up with a new chemical to kill the buggers.

Nearly wiped out by the now-banned pesticide DDT, bed bugs have emerged strong and more menacing than ever.

Reporters breathlessly describe how the creatures can go into hibernation and get by for weeks or even months without food. Bed bugs can survive in clothing, hair, luggage or books. They can live behind wallpaper or in the screw holes of a bed.

But despite the hysteria, bed bugs aren't invincible. Extreme heat can kill them. That's what Frederick County relied on when one of its workers - a former hotel employee who is a veteran of the bed bug wars - spotted a few of the bugs between the pages of a book left in the drop at the Urbana Regional Library.

The book and all the ones it touched were immediately locked down in a hot truck, where librarians carefully monitored the temperature, making sure it reached a bug-zapping 120 degrees, said Elizabeth Cromwell, spokeswoman for the library system.

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